I published this editorial elsewhere, but I want to repost it here because the inspiration started with an article from the CHUD front page.  Also because I’d like to repeat my message, which is that I’m avoiding Transformers 2 and I think that you should too.






I didn’t want to write this one.  My mission statement whenever I write about movies on the internet is to spotlight things I like or recommend.  Certainly I don’t like to judge something I haven’t yet seen.  I don’t prefer to be negative and I like to give everything a fair shake.  But at the moment, I feel compelled to bring up a concern:


Something troubling has been happening for a while now in the films of Michael Bay.  More highbrow writers would take that set-up as an opportunity to make a sarcastic comment, but I’ve met the guy and looked into his eyes and told him I enjoy his movies and I wasn’t lying – although then again, that was right before Pearl Harbor came out.  Since then, there’s been an increasing trend in his movies that is revealing itself to be in fact a real problem, and that is: a stereotypical, insensitive, and even damaging depiction of race – specifically, of African-Americans.


Up front, let me say that I am definitely of the opinion that Michael Bay is a hugely talented director.  No one makes movies that look like his, and since film is a visual art, that criteria is important to me.  There’s a reason why he’s a big name.  Bay makes cars and planes look like pretty girls, he makes pretty girls look like Playmates of the Year, and he makes explosions look like two Playmates of the Year making out with each other while Jimi Hendrix plays guitar with a fire-breathing dragon on drums.  As a red-blooded American male, I can appreciate that.  I’m willing to venture that it’s a perspective as necessary to cinema as that of more serious big-name directors.  But more and more, I don’t like where Bay is reaching.


In a way, it’s almost touching that Michael Bay keeps trying to insert comedy scenes into his hyper-dramatic action spectacles.  It’s like a dog trying to walk on two legs.  More to the point, lately it’s been like a dog on two legs trying to re-enact a Michael Richards routine.  The comedy moments in Michael Bay’s movies are unnecessary, momentum-killing, often ill-conceived, and almost always utterly tasteless.  I guess I shouldn’t expect much in the way of subtlety or propriety when discussing a guy who once placed his director’s credit (“DIRECTED BY MICHAEL BAY”) over an image of a burning cross (see the opening of Bad Boys 2 if you think I’m making it up.) 


But in that initial Transformers movie, things got even uglier than usual.  It’s not like Bay is known for attention to character, and it’s not like any of those giant robots had any personality at all, but the fact that Bay apparently thinks that “black guy” is a descriptive character trait is shameful (see the much-maligned breakdancing character “Jazz”).  I wasn’t the only person to notice that the black Transformer was the only good guy to get killed, thereby fulfilling another ugly action-movie standard stereotype.  [Which just shows how stupid that racist stereotypes are: they can’t even stay consistent.  I thought the idea was that black people are always stronger and better at sports; wouldn’t they then be much more likely to outrun the villain and to survive the physical trials an action movie depicts?  Stupid racist stereotypes.]


The fate of Jazz was probably to be expected though.  What bummed me out just as much about Transformers was the human characters, such as they are.  In Michael Bay’s movies, black people are either super-muscled action figures without depth or nuance (Will Smith in the Bad Boys movies) or more often, buffoons and clowns (Martin Lawrence in the Bad Boys movies).  In the first Transformers, Tyrese Gibson filled the former role, and Bernie Mac and Anthony Anderson filled the latter.  It was ugly and depressing, and it’s natural to wonder: Why do these actors sign up for these roles?  They have to be aware that the material is at least questionable.  It’s true, the paycheck is probably a factor, and also there’s the increased visibility (Bay’s movies reach huge audiences around the world) and the fact that Bay knows how to make any actor look like ten million bucks.  He’s a director of commercials and he knows how to make you want to buy.


But managing to get hugely talented people like Will Smith or Bernie Mac to be complicit in your racial stereotyping does not make it okay.  In fact, I’m inclined to call it wrongdoing.  And yes, maybe you do have an obligation to do better, when you are a huge-budget international director whose films, like it or not, represent our country to the world.  And particularly in the case of a movie like Transformers, which really should be considered a kid’s movie, you need to think these things through better.  What impact do these images have on little kids?  I’m truly surprised that Steven Spielberg, whose name is on the Transformers movies as a producer, lets this shit pass.


Needless to say, I already had huge misgivings about Transformers 2.  I found the first one unwatchable and offensive.  I know that this new one is TWO AND A HALF HOURS LONG, which seems an unbearable length of time to endure the overcompensating sound system that comes with a Transformers film.  And then I saw this article:





All I needed to see was that headline picture to know that business proceeds as usual with the weird racial ugliness of the Transformers movies.  I can’t really believe that so much time and budget was spent animating a gold bucktooth on a transforming robot, but there it is.  I know that for me personally, I won’t be able to tolerate even a minute of screen time featuring characters like those mentioned, and I certainly won’t be throwing my money onto the box-office bonfire when it could be better spent on eating, dating, or reading.


So this weekend, when Transformers 2 is released, I’m voting with my wallet.  I ain’t going.  This editorial and my refusal to see the movie are two very tiny drops in a very large bucket and I obviously don’t expect either to make a huge difference.  But I’m at a point in my personal life where I’m not willing to endorse stupid and lazy stereotyping in movies, and furthermore I feel obliged to point it out when it happens. 


I’m personally offended that anyone would perpetuate these images in a mainstream movie, and I don’t offend easy.  I think it’s a pretty lousy portrait of black people that Michael Bay is presenting to kids the world over these days, and it’s either unintentionally ignorant, or intentionally immoral.  There, I said it.  Maybe he’s unaware of what he’s doing, and once made aware, he will rectify it.  Or maybe he’ll read this one day, and on that day he will attempt to kick my ass.  I don’t know.  Too many people in my lowly position, certainly in Hollywood, are so worried about missing the possibility of working with Michael Bay or with anyone else who had to do with this film, that they won’t call bullshit when they see it. 


Well, I call bullshit.  And if printing that opinion comes back to haunt me some day soon, so be it.  And if you managed to read this entire article and still you pay to see Transformers 2 this weekend, well, one of two things will happen:  You’ll hate it, in which case you can’t say I didn’t say anything to stop you; or you’ll love it, in which case you may want to have your cranium checked for recent blows to the head.


Instead of paying for Transformers tickets, here are some cheaper ways to get your fix:


If you want to see cinematic explosions, Bay’s earlier film Armageddon still does the trick.  (Michael Clarke Duncan’s character is only a little bit clowny.)


If you want to ogle Megan Fox, you can buy a Maxim magazine.


If you want to see heartfelt conversations between transforming robots, rent the original 1980s cartoon – I don’t remember it much, but I guarantee the dialogue is no worse.


If you want to see unfortunate racism, try this lost Bugs Bunny cartoon — http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TRDExCI37H0.  At least back then they didn’t know any better. 



Sight unseen, I still recommend that you skip paying to watch Transformers 2.  If you do, and indeed it sucks, at least be smart enough not to complain to me about it.  Y’all been warned.  Thank you.